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Period Ending November 18, 2016

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This weekly roundup of election news and notes is compiled for Thompson Coburn by the The Ellis Insight.

President

It is now certain that the 2016 election will set an all-time turnout record. Right now, 130,945,796 individuals are recorded as voting in the presidential election. This already exceeds the 2012 final turnout number of 129,172,069 voters. The highest number of people ever participating in a US presidential election is 131,426,292. With more than 3.5 million ballots remaining to be processed in California alone, the Trump-Clinton presidential race now establishes a new high in voter participation.

The state of Michigan remains uncalled, but Donald Trump’s lead of 11,612 votes will likely survive the statewide canvassing procedure necessary to verify the final count in all 83 counties. Under Michigan election procedure, the contest has not yet been called because the end result is within one percentage point (47.6 – 47.3%), meaning a re-count can be requested. Once the period for requesting the re-count expires, the election will be called, but that will stretch after Thanksgiving.

It is unlikely that what’s left of the Clinton campaign will decide in favor of a re-count. Since Trump has already secured national victory irrespective of what happens in Michigan, it will matter little whether the state flips to Clinton.

Senate

Florida: Turning to the 2018 Senate race, term-limited Gov. Rick Scott (R) again intimates that he is considering challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in two years. For his part, Nelson says he welcomes the challenge and confirms he will seek re-election. He is still a retirement possibility, however. The Senator will be 76 years of age at the 2018 election, and in that year he will complete 30 years of congressional service when combining his years in the Senate and House. In 2012, Sen. Nelson won re-election to a third term, defeating then-Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-19), 55-42%.

Nevada: Though Republicans only have to defend eight of their Senate seats in 2018, one of their most vulnerable seats is undoubtedly Nevada. Now Sen. Dean Heller (R) is not ruling out a run for what will be an open Governor’s chair. Incumbent Brian Sandoval (R) is term-limited, so Heller will have his choice as to whether he seeks re-election or makes a move for Governor.

South Carolina: Another Senator potentially looking at an open gubernatorial campaign is Sen. Tim Scott (R). Re-elected to a full six-year term last week, Sen. Scott was originally appointed in 2013, and won election to fill the balance of resigned-Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R) term in 2014. Should he attempt to succeed term-limited South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), it will mean Mr. Scott would conduct three statewide campaigns in the course of three consecutive election cycles. Should Scott be elected Governor, he would then be able to appoint his own successor in the Senate.

Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is eligible to seek a third term and is likely to run again, closed the door this week on a potential 2018 challenge to first-term Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D). With Gov. Walker not posing a threat to the GOP nomination, it appears the person most likely to run for Senate is Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI-7). The Congressman was just re-elected to a fourth term from his rural northwestern Wisconsin seat on November 8, garnering 62% of the vote. Previously, Democratic Rep. David Obey held this district for the previous 42 years. Sen. Baldwin won her Senate term in 2012 in a 51-46% victory over former-four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson (R).

House

CA-7: The laborious California counting process continues in this uncalled race. Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove/Sacramento) continues to lead Sheriff Scott Jones (R) by a 51-49% margin. It appears there are still potentially 67,000+ votes to tabulate. To overtake Rep. Bera, Mr. Jones would have to obtain approximately 53% of the remaining votes. It is likely that Mr. Bera will win another close election once the counting process finally concludes. This is the third consecutive election in which the Congressman has endured a long “political overtime” process.

CA-49: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) is in a similar position to Rep. Bera in his San Diego/Orange County district. He leads retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate (D), 51-49%, with possibly as many as 88,000+ ballots remaining to be counted. Applegate would have to score 52.5% of the vote in order to defeat Rep. Issa. The final margin is expected to narrow, however, because Applegate actually has a lead in the counted San Diego County portion of the district, which represents 77% of the population. Issa exceeds 61% of the Orange County vote, but less than 9,000 votes remain to be counted there. If current trends continue, the Congressman should win re-election to a ninth term but in less than a 2,000-vote spread.

ID-1: Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Eagle/Boise) confirms that he is considering a bid for Governor in 2018. Gov. Butch Otter (R) is pledging to retire after three terms at the next election. Should he run, Rep. Labrador can expect a competitive statewide primary battle. A potential open 1st Congressional District campaign would also attract a wide array of Republican candidates. Mr. Labrador was re-elected to a fourth term last week with 68% of the vote.

LA-3: The double-Republican race between Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle and retired Lafayette police captain Clay Higgins, who now serves as Deputy Marshal for the city, continues. Twelve candidates ran in the open jungle primary on November 8, and Angelle and Higgins placed first and second with 29 and 26% of the vote, respectively. Since both are Republicans, the GOP is guaranteed to hold Rep. Charles Boustany’s (R-Lafayette) open seat in the December 10 run-off election. The Congressman ran an unsuccessful race for US Senate. The 3rd District primary result was viewed as an under-performance for Angelle, who finished a strong third in the 2015 gubernatorial race. He is viewed now as only a slight favorite to win the run-off, but will again have a huge campaign resource advantage. Higgins spent just over $200,000 for the primary as compared to more than $1.3 million from Angelle.

LA-4: Though Democrat J. Marshall Jones Jr. placed first in the jungle primary, the favorite to win the December 10 run-off in this strongly Republican open district is second place finisher Mike Johnson (R), a Bossier City state Representative. Jones finished first in the Shreveport anchored jungle primary with 28%, followed by Johnson’s 25%. The remaining six candidates split the outstanding 47% of the vote. Since 69.8% of the 285,985 voters on November 8 chose a Republican candidate, the likelihood is strong that Mr. Johnson will be elected in the run-off election.

KS-2: Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Topeka) chose not to seek re-election as House Conference Vice Chair because she says she wants to concentrate on the high level legislation that will be passing through the Ways & Means Committee, especially the major tax reform package. While this certainly may have entered into her decision to exit the House leadership, a stronger reason is her testing the waters for a 2018 gubernatorial run. Gov. Sam Brownback (R), whose approval numbers are reaching an all-time low, is ineligible to run for a third term. Though Rep. Jenkins was re-elected with 61% of the vote ten days ago in her 2nd District, this Topeka/Lawrence seat can be marginal in an open situation.

SD-AL: Our first open seat of the 2018 cycle has already come into focus. At-large Rep. Kristi Noem (R-Castlewood) announced that she will become a candidate for Governor in the open contest two years from now. Rep. Noem made such an early announcement because of a new campaign finance law that was already taking effect. Because she became an official 2018 gubernatorial candidate before the new initiative that limits statewide campaign contributions to $4,000 took effect, Rep. Noem was able to transfer the $1.9 million from her congressional campaign account into a new gubernatorial committee. She will face strong primary opposition in the Governor’s race, and an open at-large congressional campaign is certain to attract many candidates from both parties.

Governor/Legislature

The lone remaining uncalled Governor’s race began the canvassing period, which will determine whether North Carolina incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) can overcome Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper’s 4,772-vote lead. It is likely that McCrory will be defeated in the final count. Despite the loss, Republicans will have gained a net two gubernatorial chairs, taking Democratic governorships in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont, and expanding their national partisan division advantage to 33-16-1, which will be an all-time high for the GOP.

Perhaps the most important unwritten story of the November election is the Republicans expanded dominance in state legislatures. Now Republicans control 66 legislative chambers of the nation’s 99 state Houses and Senates. The Nebraska unicameral legislature is elected on a non-partisan basis, but there is no doubt Republicans control that chamber, too. If the final count in the New York Senate allows the GOP to keep their tenuous hold on that body, the party division will expand to 68 Republican chambers.

The GOP’s strength at the legislative level is important because the 2020 census, reapportionment, and redistricting period are beginning to come into focus. The fact that the GOP controls so many chambers, and if they can hold them through the next two elections, means that the party will again control the redistricting pen. This could result in not only continued Republican control in state legislatures through as long as, perhaps, 2032, but it gives the GOP the ability to maintain a US House majority during that long period, as well.